Juniors tee off with high hopes

Cayman’s top four amateur golfers are in Trinidad and Tobago this week competing in the regional junior championships.

The team comprises of Jack Widmer, 15, Shehzad Hafiz, 15, Kevin Mitchell, 17, Kody Bergstrom, 14.

It’s being held at the St Andrew’s Golf Club in Moka, Maraval.

Team manager is Sue Widmer. Before the team left, Widmer said: ‘We’ve got four boys in the team. Pity we haven’t got any girls, we’d like to encourage them to compete at some time.

‘It’s going to be very exciting. There are going to be competitors from nine other countries and this is a very important tournament.

‘I’m confident that they’ll do the best that they can possibly do. They’ll see the trophies and want to win but you’ve got to play each hole at a time. The conditions are not easy, very windy and hilly and it just rains – but we’re prepared for that.

‘Widmer’s three children excel at golf, hence her nickname, Caddy Mum. She travels extensively with the golfers.

Johnny, 18, is the best known. He got into golf by pure chance, as a toddler. He was bought a Fisher Price golf set, took to it immediately and at the age of four when the North Sound Club – then called Links at Safehaven – was being built, neighbour Bob Slatter saw Johnny trying to hit things out of the rough and decided to take him to the club.

Johnny’s sister, Samantha, also took to it, enjoying the social side as much as the golfing. Inevitably, when the youngest sibling, Jack came along there was only going to be one sport that he took seriously.

Samantha continued on to college golf in the US and even became captain. Johnny is about to play Division One at the University of Colorado.

Slatter is the treasurer of the Cayman Islands Golf Association but years ago he was extremely active in introducing youngsters to the game.

He said: ‘In the beginning a lot of the members wondered whether we should have kids but they learnt to respect and behave the course and now the members want to play with them.

Mitchell said: ‘I’m really excited but know it will be hard. This is my first year of playing in the Caribbean Championships. I’ve been playing since I was 10 or 11, love it and want to see how far I can go as an amateur before deciding which direction to go.

‘I love golf because it’s challenging, it requires skill and strength and everything, not just the one skill. It’s different.’

Kevin has never had a hole in one but his brother, Peter, has. ‘I’m pretty jealous of that. My dad has one too.’

Mitchell’s just returned from a year’s boarding school in Canada and is unsure what he’ll do next year study-wise. He does intend to continue his golf career though, whatever happens.

Cody’s mum, Debi, is proud of her little sporting all rounder who excels at cricket and skateboarding too.

‘Cody is on the national junior programme in cricket too,’ she said. ‘He likes both of them but right now he’s focusing solely on golf because he has this wonderful opportunity to represent Cayman in his first Caribbean Championships. Like any parent, we hope that he does very well.

Slatter said: ‘We’re trying to revive the junior programme. While the numbers are fairly small, they are at least growing. The big challenge for the juniors is that we have to host the junior Caribbean Championships within a couple of years. And so we want to have by that time a full team of juniors of about 12. We were only able to send four this year.

‘As usual, it’s the parents that are the key, getting to the course and all the things needed. We’ve got some keen golfers now – mostly boys – but we do have Siobhan Ribbins who is our senior past champion and she has two daughters who are pretty good golfers.

So we’re hoping to expand it.

‘Shehzad seems to have a pretty good chance. He was third in his age group last year and is in the same age group this year and would see him moving up. I hope he wins it.

‘Kevin is in the tough age group. He may struggle but the variety of golf in the Caribbean varies quite a bit so we won’t be last.’